HIGHER LEARNING, EPILOGUE
Danu “Dee” Ikeda watches the green light disappear along with her parents, their friends, and her younger self. She doesn’t envy what that naïve girl is going to go through but Dee knows she’ll make it back in one piece, more or less. And she’ll see parts of the universe she never would’ve experienced otherwise.
“Well that was dramatic.”
Dee turns. Frederica Osbourne—the one Dee knew, not her time-displaced doppelganger—hovers overhead. She touches down lightly on the grass and leans against a nearby tree. Dee hasn’t seen this version of Frederica in thirteen years but she remembers every detail of the older woman’s face as if they only parted yesterday.
“I should’ve known you’d be waiting in the wings,” Dee says.
“Well, you know me,” Frederica says. “I’ve never been good at minding my own business.”
“Let me guess,” Dee says. “You want an exclusive interview?”
“Nah, I’m good,” Frederica replies. “But Nila’s written, like, a dozen papers about you that she’s been just dying to publish.”
Dee rolls her eyes.
“You know, the worst part is that I can’t even tell you guys off for keeping all this a secret from me,” she says. “Considering I was the one who told you to do it in the first place.”
“Yeah, you kinda shot yourself in the foot there, didn’t you?” Frederica says with a smirk. “If you’d really wanted to get back at us, you should’ve left us hanging thirty years before forgiving us.”
“I almost did,” Dee says. “But then I remembered the look in Mom’s eyes when I disappeared all those years ago, and I knew I couldn’t send her back without letting her know. I owed her that much, at least.”
“She still spent years trying to find a way to save you without breaking reality,” Frederica says. “But that spell of yours turned out to be pretty airtight.”
“I’m sure she did all she could,” Dee says, smiling to herself.
“And then some,” Frederica says. “So go easy on her, okay? Try not to make her cry too much.”
“You know I can’t promise that,” she says. “But I’ll try.”
“That’s all I ask,” Frederica says. “Anyway, you want a lift home?”
“Sure, why not?” Dee says. “I kind of blew my younger self’s bank account on cab fare.”
Frederica laughs and makes a series of gestures with her hand. A portal appears above the grass. Dee approaches it tentatively.
“Dee,” Frederica says.
“Yeah?” Dee replies, glancing back.
“It’s good to see you again,” Frederica says.
“You too, Aunt Fred,” Dee replies. “Say hi to Melody for me.”
“Will do,” Frederica says.
Dee smiles and steps through the portal. For a moment as she feels the magical energy coursing through her she expects to be thrown into another time, another dimension. But then she steps out onto the lawn of her family home. Her parents’ hovercar sits in the driveway. She wasn’t expecting them to be home so soon. She thought she’d have more time to prepare herself.
The door opens. Her sister Yuki stands on the front step. Compared to Dee, Yuki looks mostly human. Dark hair, smooth skin, round ears. She used to be a few years older than Dee; now Yuki’s behind by a decade.
“Hey, Sis,” Dee says.
“It’s really you, isn’t it?” Yuki says.
Dee swallows hard.
“Yeah,” she says. “When did Mom and Dad tell you?”
“Last night,” Yuki says. “I thought they were just messing around but… here you are. I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.”
“It’s fine,” Dee says. “I knew I’d be seeing you again.”
Yuki smiles, tears threatening at the corners of her eyes. She clears her throat.
“Well, come on in,” she says. “I know you’ve been waiting a long time for this.”
She steps aside. Dee takes a deep breath and steps inside. Her younger sibling, Harold, stands in front of the couch like a deer in headlights. They’re only thirteen—she’s been on her journey for as long as they’ve been alive—and they take after their mother in appearance.
“Hi,” Dee says, feeling as nervous as they look.
Harold keeps staring at her for a long while, and she half expects them to take off running. But then they step forward and look Dee up and down.
“What happened to your arm?” they ask.
She glances down and touches the scar running around her bicep.
“That’s… a long story,” she says. “I’ll tell you all about it later, okay?”
Harold doesn’t seem satisfied at first, then they nod. Dee ruffles their white hair until they pull away.
She turns. Her father stands in the doorway to the kitchen, leaning against the frame with his arms crossed. He’s trying to act casual but she can tell he’s barely holding it together. He lasts about five seconds before pulling her into a hug. His greying goatee tickles her face and his heart pounds against her chest. The soothing smell of his cheap aftershave fills her nostrils.
“Guess you finally have an ending for your comic now,” she says.
He laughs—she forgot how much she loves that sound.
“Oh, honey,” he says, “the story’s just getting started.”
He releases her and glances back over his shoulder. Dee follows his gaze into the kitchen. Magh sits at the table, staring at the placemat in front of her. Dee’s hands start shaking as she steps forward and pulls up a chair across from her mother.
“Hey, Mom,” she says. “I missed you.”
Magh looks up at Dee, eyes wet, and smiles.